Various Artists: Little Darla Has a Treat For You (Volume 23, Summer 2005)
Pleasing some of the people some of the time, just like good label compilations do.
Label comps are one of the strangest phenomena in the kingdom of recorded music. While movie and television soundtracks corral songs together in honor and remembrance of their parent visuals, and genre comps are united by umm . . . genre, label comps are weird little play-dough factories of song. Cousins to the endangered mix-tape, label comps like Darla's long-running Little Darla Has a Treat For You series exhibit more random behavior than your basic "check out my hipster cred" and "I'm sensitive; sleep with me" missives. They are by nature hit-or-miss, designed to spur as much interest in the label's far-flung wares as possible. Hunters and gatherers of label comps invariably find start-to-finish repeated listening to be extremely rare. Unlike the buffalo, not all of the parts of Little Darla Has a Treat For You are useful or tasty. Little Darla has plenty of treats, but a few tricks as well. So many different aesthetics and styles represented make it next to impossible to be objective in any way. Some of the tracks that sound like duds to my ears could very well make sense in the context of their own records. So belly up to the bar for some sweet sweet bias, as we run down the list of summer crop offerings!
First impressions are everything, and Little Darla starts out strong with the Lowlights' "The One I Love Is Gone". For a record decorated with summery, vintage Hawaiian sheet music covers, the song couldn't be more unexpected with its sparse, chilly atmosphere. Chunky banjo and fiddle surround songwriter Dameon Lee's reverb-drenched vocals, among bird twitters and sampled thunderstorms. Out of everything here, "The One I Love Is Gone" is the most intriguing, the Most-Likely-To-Inspire-Purchase, but that could just be my own depressed ass. Sounding like a counterpart to the late, great Tarnation, the song is well-crafted, well-recorded, and damn haunting. Darren Hanlon's "Brooklyn Bridge" is jangly pop a la mid-period R.E.M., and also holds up well. It is sequenced well here, after Lowlights' somber start, perkier but not screaming sunshine -- just catchy and melodic enough. Gears shift perceptibly, however, for Piano Magic's "Love and Music" and Baskervilles' "Midnight at the Underground". The former sounds like a Glenn Frey rave-up from his 80's days, minus the passion, while the Baskervilles' New Wave-inspired track is slightly better in the way that Splenda is preferable to Nutrasweet. Neither one tastes quite like sugar.
Still, the negative is hard to dwell on for very long with these type of comps -- just skip to next track already! The whole thing will set you back less than half the price of a regular CD, so don't let Aarktica's unfortunate "Bleeding Light" get your teeth too far out of joint. Eventually, the California Oranges' "Falling Back" will break the torpor of the Field Mice's too-long "Missing the Moon" with a solid if indistinguishable blast of sunny pop-punk, after which Puerto Rico's Superaquello will warm right up to your iPod with the delightful "Como Campana". A mish-mash of electronic pop and Caribbean sounds, its disparate influences are brought together with some semblance of logic and taste without any loss of fun and spontaneity. Kobol, the Mazzy Star-ish Jennifer O'Connor, Linda Draper, and Magic Arrows also turn in some inspired tracks. And the rest? No doubt anyone who's into the crapshoot of label compilations will salvage a completely different list of songs to take with them, making the sifting through of Little Darla a weird but worthwhile excursion.